Are you stuck in a ‘performative friendship’? Here’s why they’re awful — and how to escape

Depressed teenage girl lying on her bed at home, looking at her mobile phone
Depressed teenage girl lying on her bed at home, looking at her mobile phone

In the digital age of carefully curated content, even friendships can start to feel fake.

Dr. Alison McClymont, a child psychologist and trauma therapist, believes social media platforms have given rise to “performative displays of friendship,” meaning that people are posting “aspirational images of friendships” designed to make their followers jealous.

“For some people, this can really evoke jealousy if they see, for example, the person they thought was their special friend out with somebody else,” McClymont explained in a recent TikTok video. “All of a sudden they feel excluded,”

McClymont believes social media platforms have given rise to “performative displays of friendship,” britishpsychsociety/TikTok
McClymont believes social media platforms have given rise to “performative displays of friendship,” britishpsychsociety/TikTok
The overcompensation for boasting friendships online instead of fostering emotional connections in real life can lead to burnout, she explained. britishpsychsociety/TikTok
The overcompensation for boasting friendships online instead of fostering emotional connections in real life can lead to burnout, she explained. britishpsychsociety/TikTok

Those strong emotions might make the envious and excluded pal feel pressure to exhibit their friendship with neediness, buying gifts or planning other social outings that are picture-perfect for Instagram to prove that they’re worthy.

“That financial and time overspend…can actually start taking a toll on people’s mental health,” McClymont said, noting that she’s seen the phenomenon in her own patients.

She argued that people are “no longer enjoying easy, day-to-day interactions with others” and instead feel “pressured” to perform as a friend, leading to burnout.

She recommends logging off of the apps and stepping away from the screen. Monkey Business – stock.adobe.com
She recommends logging off of the apps and stepping away from the screen. Monkey Business – stock.adobe.com

Her solution is simple: log off and put down the phone.

“We need to start encouraging people to step away from the social media screen and just live your life,” she advised, imploring viewers to focus on the world around them instead of the screen of their smartphones.

TikTokkers agreed — a somewhat ironic fact, given that they were watching McClymont’s advice on their phones.

Some said they’ve even noticed “performative friendships” proliferating among their own kids, calling it a “sad, yet accurate” depiction of modern social interaction.

“Yeah, this is one thing I’ve always been passionate about and it’s leaving social media to be what it is, a simulation of reality,” one user wrote. “People get so caught up in it and start to believe it’s real life.”

“I think if people weren’t able to take pictures/videos, there’s lots of things people wouldn’t bother doing. Life feels so performative and contrived now,” lamented another.

Experts have already sounded the alarm of the negative impacts social media has on mental health. Shutterstock / Antonio Guillem
Experts have already sounded the alarm of the negative impacts social media has on mental health. Shutterstock / Antonio Guillem

McClymont’s arrive amid a crucial juncture in legislation on social media, as experts sound the alarm on the platforms’ impact on mental health, especially in teens.

Meanwhile, some influential voices have argued for a tobacco-style warning on apps due to their potentially addictive nature.